The Pentagon is investigating the National Security Agency for improperly punishing an official after he reported he suspected a co-worker was a Chinese agent in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The Pentagon inspector general’s office is probing the NSA, which specializes in electronic spying, for retaliating against Russ Tice, an 18-year specialist who worked on highly classified intelligence programs. Defense officials say the agency violated rules that protect “whistleblowers” in government who report wrongdoing by federal agencies.
A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Tice appears to have been punished unfairly.
“It looks like he communicated substantive concerns” to another agency outside of NSA, the official said, noting that investigators are trying to determine whether Mr. Tice was a victim of unfair reprisal by NSA.
“I’m being retaliated against because I followed the rules and reported suspicious behavior,” Mr. Tice said in an interview. “I continued to report on that, and now I’m being retaliated against by having my security access denied and ultimately revoked.”
Without a security clearance, Mr. Tice will be forced to end his employment at NSA. The agency formally began the termination process against Mr. Tice in August.
Prior to that, Mr. Tice was posted to the NSA motor pool at the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters where he was placed on “red badge” status that prohibited him from working in his normal job.
Mr. Tice said he was one of at least 14 other NSA specialists who were sent to the motor pool as administrative punishment.
Mr. Tice also said NSA security officials forced him to undergo two evaluations by agency psychiatrists who declared him mentally unbalanced. The agency’s security officials used the evaluations to suspend his clearance, he said.
Mr. Tice had been nominated to receive a medal for his intelligence work during the Iraq war. The medal was withdrawn after his clearance was suspended.
Mr. Tice said the evaluations were part of a tactic to remove him from the agency for reporting his suspicions about a spy. Three other psychiatric evaluations, including two conducted while he was at NSA, showed he was normal, he said.
An NSA spokesman said the agency does not comment on personnel matters.
Mr. Tice’s case began in early 2001 while he was working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. At that time, he said, he began to suspect that an Asian-American woman working with him at DIA was linked to Chinese intelligence.
The woman voiced sympathies toward China and against Taiwan, and showed what officials say are often signs of espionage, including personal travel abroad and unusual affluence.
Mr. Tice said he alerted DIA’s security office to the woman’s activities and initially was told his suspicions were unfounded. He transferred to a job at NSA in November 2002 and continued to report his security concerns about the DIA analyst.
His concerns were heightened by the case of the FBI’s longtime paid informant, Katrina Leung, who was arrested in April 2003 for supplying FBI counterintelligence secrets to Chinese intelligence and for having affairs with two veteran FBI counterspies.
Mr. Tice said that after Miss Leung’s arrest in April 2003, he sent an e-mail message from his NSA office to a DIA security official questioning the FBI’s competence in probing Chinese espionage.
Mr. Tice said during one exchange with the DIA counterintelligence official he was told there is “reason to be concerned” about the female DIA analyst being a spy.
The DIA official forwarded Mr. Tice’s e-mail to NSA security, which then ordered him to take the psychiatric evaluation that led to the suspension of his security clearances.
After several months of red-badge status, Mr. Tice sought administrative help from NSA Deputy Director William Black, the office of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, and several other members of Congress involved in intelligence oversight.